In search of lost times: Callot Soeurs
29 January, 2018

Quoted as one of the greatest couture house by Marcel Proust in his novel “À la Recherche du Temps perdu”, Callot Soeurs, was a Parisian fashion house ran by three innovative sisters.

While wandering on avenue Matignon in Paris one can notice - or inadvertedly step on - a mosaic representing a woman in a light-blue dress beside the words ‘Callot Soeurs’. There to commemorate the address of one of their shops, the mosaic keeps alive the memory of one of the most influential and successful fashion houses of the 20th century, named Callot Soeurs.

Evening dress, designed by Callot Soeurs, 1907-10. Courtesy Galleria del Costume di Palazzo Pitti, all rights reserved. 

The fashion house was founded in 1895 by four sisters. They descended from a family of aert and textile dealers and were thus accustomed to precious fabrics, lingerie and laces their family shops were renowned for. Lace, indeed, was one of the fabrics that most characterised the sisters’ work, Marcel Proust himself noted in his novel that Caillot Soeurs used “a little too much” of it. Their couture gowns were realized with hand-made lace, usually reconstituted eighteenth century lace. However, they also introduced more innovative fabrics such as gold and silver lamé and an elastic gabardine for their sport couture.

Long dress, designed by Callot Soeurs, 1927. Courtesy Les Arts Décoratifs, all rights reserved.

They were also among the first to abandon the corset for less constrictive silhouettes. Marie Gerber, the elder sister, had a design talent besides having trained herself as a première in the atelier of Raudnitz & Cie. Inspired by the Orientalism and avant-garde arts, she eventually designed also Cubist dresses, made of laces and embroideries resembling collages. She used to drape fabrics on models and let her toile-makers to execute the design. One of these toile-makers was, from 1901 to 1906, Madeleine Vionnet. Later, the great couturiere would recognise Callot Soeurs as those who inspired her in her work. She declaired 'without the example of the Callot Soeurs, I would have continued to make Fords. It is because of them that I have been able to make Rolls Royces'.

Evening dress, designed by Callot Soeurs, ca. 1908. Courtesy Kunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, CC BY NC SA.

After the death of Marie Berger, the couture house was run by her sons Pierre and Jacques, who continued to sell to the maison's loyal clientele. However, the economic crash of the 1929 had a great impact on the business, which was then closed in 1937.